Hardening online security to protect your privacy and information really isn’t as difficult as most would have you believe.
I’ve been working online since 1999, I also do most of my shopping, banking and investing online. I’ve never had a virus, I’ve never been hacked, I’ve never been scammed online! (I was a victim of the Marshalls/TJMaxx hack, but even then I suffered no personal or business loss.)
Follow the steps below to harden your online security.
1. Use a VPN or Virtual Private Network
Whenever you are connected to the Internet, you should be connecting through a VPN.
A VPN protects you and your data from third-party trackers, cyber-criminals, hackers, the government and your ISP!
There are really only two choices for VPN provider, OverPlay & IPVanish.
OverPlay offers a SmartDNS + VPN service that works on all your devices, offers military-grade encrypted connection and anonymous browsing.
IPVanish is the only true Top Tier VPN service in the world. IPVanish provides a secure environment for everyday web use. Once you establish a VPN connection all of your online data (emails, instant messages, data transfers, online banking) pass-through their encrypted tunnel.
Best of all, both allow you to:
Stop ISPs from spying and throttling your speed based on usage
Prevent getting hacked while on public Wi-Fi
Keep your online presence and information private
Access websites and media without restrictions
Stop geo-targeting in its tracks
Protect your online freedom
ZERO TRAFFIC LOGS
2. Use Antivirus/Firewall Software
Most ISPs in the United States provide their users with either McAfee or Norton Antivirus free of charge. USE IT!
3. Use Strong, Unique Password for Every Website
Get rid of the ‘Tennisnut61’ password and use one that won’t crack like ‘8&4Yiw^2pVqx#’. A password manager like LastPass makes it easy to generate, store, manage and regularly change all of your passwords. It’s also accessible from all your devices. And make your passwords a minimum of 8 characters, I usually use 12 to 16.
4. Use Multi-factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a method of access control. A user is only granted access after successfully presenting several separate pieces of evidence to an authentication mechanism. You should be using MFA with your email accounts, bank accounts, investment accounts and your website access point. If your bank and investment accounts do not offer MFA – find another!
5. Use DuckDuckGo.com to Search Online
Unlike Google, Yahoo, and Bing, DuckDuckGo.com does not track your movements around the web.
Taking the steps outlined above along with common sense ie: keeping software updated, verifying privacy preferences on mobile devices and social media. Will keep you relatively free of issues when online. However, if you don’t have the brains to realize that no African prince is emailing you, you’ll still be open to scams!
The digital currency – Bitcoin, is causing quite a stir in the market place these days. This relatively new type of currency can be thought of as a code. It is mined on computers by users called Bitcoin Miners around the world. The best aspect of this digital currency is that it is not owned by any one bank or government.
Bitcoin is the first digital crypto-currency that is gaining popularity and acceptance with the public and retailers alike. Just like other currencies, Bitcoins can be used as a form of payment.
Currently, not all merchants accept Bitcoins, but the numbers who do is rising daily. It is also possible to trade Bitcoins in a Bitcoin Exchange.
before You Invest in Bitcoin
Bitcoin is totally different to a central bank and even to the MasterCard or Visa Network as there is no central authority running it. Transfers and exchanges of Bitcoin are done directly by users and miners – peer to peer system. Resulting in much lower transaction fees.
Bitcoins are produced using software and computers in a process involving complicated algorithms. Miners actually create the Bitcoin and they are rewarded for their efforts.
There is a cap on the number of Bitcoins which are mined. The number is 21 million and it is expected that this number will not be reached until 2140. That means the value of Bitcoin will only increase from here on out.
Blockchain is a public ledger that records all Bitcoin transactions. Any user may view this record in order to verify transactions and this transparency or access to the ledger, helps keep the currency safe.
To aquire Bitcoin you need to mine for it or buy it through an exchange. Many websites have been set up which help you locate local people willing to buy or sell Bitcoin to you.
Your Bitcoin is stored in a Wallet. Instead of using an email address for access, your key to your wallet is a long string of letters and numbers. You use this key to send or receive Bitcoin into your wallet.
Verified Bitcoin transactions cannot be stopped or refunded. If you lose access to your wallet, your funds are lost. Therefore, it is important to protect your wallet or backup it up to another device.
The volatility of Bitcoin is probably the biggest risk. The value of Bitcoin fluctuates wildly some days! Depending on when you invested this could be good or bad. In 2013 the price quickly went from around $14 to $1,200 USD, but then dropped to $632.
If you are willing to take risks, investing in Bitcoin could be extremely worthwhile.
Bitcoins are exchanged and transferred digitally through a computer generated code. To ensure that these Bitcoin transactions are completed safely and securely users use keys.
Two keys are always required for any Bitcoin transaction:
1. Public Key
This is the one that is used for the actual transfer of the Bitcoin. Because it is a public key, it allows anyone to verify the transaction. before a transfer can take place, the senders account is verified to ensure that they have sufficient Bitcoins in their account to cover the transaction. Upon completion of this first verification the transaction enters into the Block Chain. This is like a public ledger displayed in a transparent glass case; people can see but they can’t touch!
This first verification step prevents anyone from trying to send the same transaction to two different people at the same time. If anyone attempts this type of process it is referred to as double spending. Having the two different keys prevents this from happening.
2. Private Key
The end user then employs their private key to unlock the transaction, once it has been verified. The Bitcoin then gets deposited into their wallet. A wallet is simply a virtual bank account.
Because the system uses two keys all activity in the network can be easily traced. The process of verification often occurs multiple times before the receiver deposits the Bitcoin.
All of these transactions are available in the Block Chain, every transaction ever made is accounted for there. Plus anyone can view it if they wish to.
How the Blockchain is Created
As I described earlier, it takes several verifications for each transaction to proceed. At the present time the current number of verifications required is six.
Prior to a transaction entering the Blockchain, a new block must be formed. The first step in this process is to verify that the person sending the Bitcoin has the currency available in their wallet.
This is where it can get complicated!
To create a block, a process known as hash creation must occur. Imagine small nodes that are attached to a block each time it is verified. So the original block gets a little longer.
As this is all done via a mathematical software program, zeros are added at the beginning of the block. As each new block verification is completed, more zeros are added. The largest block is always taken to be the authenticated block.
Once this verification process has occurred six times this block enters into the BlockChain and a time stamp is associated with it. This is how you can easily see all the transactions that have ever occurred. No records are ever removed from the Blockchain and it will continue to grow in size.
What’s the difference between multi-level marketing (MLM) and pyramid schemes?
Sometimes referred to as networking marketing, multi-level marketing (MLM) is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a marketing system where people earn income from the sales they make personally. But they also as earn on the sales of others that they have referred into the business opportunity.
Unfortunately, multi-level marketing (MLM) has received a negative reputation in the past. Newer, more creative businesses use new terminology to refer to multi-level marketing such as: word of mouth or direct sales.
Multi-level marketing uses a product or service provider’s customer base as it’s sales team. They are independent contractors and earn income from the sales they make. They also earn residual income on the sales of other team members that they have referred. Hence the name multi-level marketing.
On the other hand, a pyramid scheme is just that – a scheme. In a typical pyramid scheme, no real or tangible goods or services are sold. The promise of making large amounts of money in short periods of time is the selling point.
A pyramid scheme is virtually impossible to maintain. However, those who get in first are the ones that are usually able to cash out with substantial monetary gains.
Since it must continually enroll new customers into a pyramid scheme, it usually crumbles before it succeeds. Leaving those at the bottom – out of luck.
Most well-known pyramid schemes involve the person at the top of the tier paying a sum of money and then enrolling others who pay the same amount. When a certain number of enrollees is reached, the top enrollee leaves with his or her money. And then the game continues.
Unfortunately, individuals at the bottom level are the ones left out in the cold. It’s nearly impossible to continue to recruit individuals who are willing to plunk down hard-earned money with no product or service being sold.
The real difference between pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing (MLM) is that multi-level marketing recruits individuals on a tier system. But products, goods, and services are actually being sold.
Throughout history people have tried to come up with alternative currencies but none have gained the popularity enjoyed by Bitcoin.
The Bitcoin phenomenon began back in 2009 and by the middle of 2013 it was estimated that the value of Bitcoins currently in circulation was approximately $400 Million US. Like all currencies, the exchange rate of the Bitcoin fluctuates and we have seen some huge extremes. But, if you purchased Bitcoin early you will have likely seen a huge return on your initial investment.
Domain registrar NameCheap made the news in early 2013 when they first started to accept the digital currency. As of January 2014, due to the increasing number of requests from their customers; numerous merchants and retailers began accepting Bitcoin as a payment method.
Reasons for Bitcoin popularity:
- Bitcoin has no borders and is not backed by any government.
- You do not have to pay the high conversion fees you would with a regular bank.
- A Bitcoin transaction is not reversible due to the verification process. This helps prevent fraud and un-necessary returns on purchases.
- It is possible to exchange Bitcoin into your local currency whenever you wish.
Bitcoins are becoming so popular that dedicated websites are being set up that allow you to purchase in Bitcoin.
The Future of Bitcoin
Of course, there are many people who are just waiting for the Bitcoin popularity bubble to burst. People are wondering if there is a weakness in the system that will cause it to eventually crumble. Will governments central banking authorities move to seize control? Or can it be hacked or corrupted by dishonest users?
The biggest issue with the Bitcoin system would be keeping the private keys a secret. People have accidentally lost their private keys or leave them displayed on their home computers, without thinking.
While users are advised to protect and encrypt their online wallets, they do not always do so. Some users suggest splitting your private keys into shorter sections and storing them on different devices.
One good way to help protect the privacy of your keys is to back them up to an offline website such as Google Drive or onto a USB device.
While there is a cap set on the number of Bitcoins that can be mined. There are no set rules on how each bitcoin can be broken down. The possibility of new units appearing is real. Currently each Bitcoin is broken down into 100 million units.
If you have paid attention to the exchange rate of the bitcoin you will see that it is very volatile. Rates can increase and decrease by as much as 50% in one day. This will certainly discourage some people from using Bitcoins altogether.
The general way of thinking is that the rates will start to stabilize as more businesses accept and more people start using Bitcoins.
The short history of Bitcoin dates back to October of 2008, when the developer, Satoshi Nakamoto wrote the code for Bitcoin. Satoshi is just a pseudonym as the true identity is unknown!
January 3, 2009 is the date the operation of the software began. It was developed as a free project on Source Forge. Since this time the number of units of Bitcoin in circulation has reached approximately 11 million.
There is a cap of 21 million on the number of Bitcoins that will be made available. The way the code was written, it will take until the year 2040 to reach this number.
Bitcoins can also be divided into units and each smaller unit is known as a satoshi.
How Banking System Works Today
To truly understand the Bitcoin currency, it is important to know how our current banking system works.
All of the world’s currencies are issued by a central bank or government entity, depending upon the country. This central agency has control over how much currency is in circulation at any one time.
Currencies have different versions, paper and metal based units of each currency, representing different amounts of value.
The US currency has paper bills that represent 1 dollar, 5 dollars, 20 dollars, 50 dollars and 100 dollars. Then they have coins – metal units – that represent 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents and 1 dollar.
If these coins or paper bills get damaged they are simply removed from circulation and new ones are issued. This is all the responsibility of by the central bank. The Federal Reserve Bank is the central bank in the United States. The Fed can decide when to introduce more money and how the economy affects the value of the money. This is an extremely complicated topic but we are sure you know about inflation and recession.
The Bitcoin Currency
When it comes to the Bitcoin currency there is no central bank or reserve. So no one entity is controlling the mining, circulation and transactions of the Bitcoin currency. Instead this type of system is based on a cryptography system. This is where keys – a code made up of numbers and letters – is used by both end users to fulfill and complete a transaction.
All Bitcoin transactions require the use of two keys, one is a public key and the other a private or secret key. This method uses encrypted code to send the Bitcoin to another user. Only the person with the private key can unlock and receive the Bitcoin.
This encrypted system is extremely secure and transactions are only verified if the sender has the correct amount of Bitcoin available. Once verified it is sent to the receiver, who unlocks and deposits it into their account – wallet.
This process is simple enough and eliminates the need for any public bank to be involved. This is one reason why people love using Bitcoins, as the banks have no control over its value.